5 Crazy Ways Climate Change Is Affecting Us
According to smart people on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humankind has until the year 2030 to slash carbon dioxide emissions if we hope to curb global warming. Considering that only 50-to-70% of Americans believe humans cause climate change, that's a daunting task combined with a very tight deadline.
While we're working on trying to get our environmental shit together, we're already seeing and feeling the effects of climate change in our daily lives in some very odd ways ...
Climate Change Is Melting all of Denali's Frozen Turds
Every year, more than 1,100 people venture into the Alaskan wilderness to attempt to summit Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley [formerly formerly known as "That big rock over yonder."]). At some 20,310 feet, it's the third tallest mountain on earth and the highest peak in North America. And like every mountain humans like to climb, it's also covered in poop.
Thankfully, most of it is frozen solid and has been for decades, so it's just kinda hanging out up there like forgotten (but much worse tasting) fudge bars in the back of your freezer. Except, thanks to climate change and rising temperatures, Denali's poopcicles are starting to thaw, bringing 60 years' worth of mountain turds out of hibernation and back into ... active "doodie." If the trend continues, all that reactivated shit will very literally start to roll downhill. In other words, Denali's in the process of becoming a giant poop chute that will bombard the lower-lying areas of Alaska with melted turds.
Really, though, how much poop could there possibly be on one mountain? We're so glad you asked. According to the National Park Service, since Denali was first summited in 1951, climbers have coated the natural wonder in a staggering 70 metric tons of shit, or about 152,000 pounds of fudge bunnies. Now, for the sake of pooparison, climbers left an estimated 17,000 pounds of crap on Everest last year alone, so Denali's poop coverage is merely a thin glaze compared to Everest's mounds of chocolate frosting.
Still, what is it about mountain climbing that inspires an urgent need to take all of the dumps? Granted, climbing a mountain is hardly a single-day trip, but is reaching the top somehow more exhilarating if your bowels are empty? Is it so climbers can look at photos years after their visit and know they left a little bit of themselves behind? Despite our endless questions, the poop remains, becoming an increasingly serious, and fragrant, issue.
For decades climbers would just chuck their butt fudge into the nearest crevasse - a massive crack or fissure in the glacier. Trouble is, it doesn't decompose or magically become more pleasant over the years -- it might be frozen solid, but it's still poop. Now that the glaciers are starting to thaw, that frozen poop is starting to melt and flow down the mountain, contaminating streams, rivers, and lakes below. According to the scientists who have analyzed Denali's melting poop, even the vintage poo is still "biologically active" when it thaws, meaning it's still full of typical fecal bacteria, like E. coli and other nasties that we flush for a reason. And since Alaska continues to experience record high temperatures, researchers expect that the rate and number of downward-traveling turds will continue to increase.
Climate Change is Shortening Human Gestation and Causing an Increase in Premature Births
Assuming you don't spend the entire 40ish weeks puking, pregnancy can be a magical experience. Mostly. A tiny alien-like being kicks your insides, strangers rub your stomach, and nobody gets super judgy if you happen to pee a little when you sneeze. But being enormously pregnant during the heat of summer is a special kind of hell that, really, nothing short of a producing an adorable sex trophy could ever make worthwhile. And as climate change causes summer temperatures to rise, those in their final months of pregnancy are enduring unprecedented levels of sticky, sweat-soaked misery.
Now, it appears that regardless of how well we cope with the heat levels mentally, our bodies have had quite enough, thanks very much. New research shows that rising global temperatures are causing increasing numbers of preterm births.
One study determined that elevated temperatures were responsible for some 25,000 preterm births every single year. Another study found that spontaneous preterm deliveries increased by 11.6% when the average weekly temperature increased by 10 degrees Fahrenheit. In case you haven't brushed up on your obstetrical terminology, full-term pregnancy is 39-40 weeks. Babies are considered premature if they're born before the 37-week mark since parts of them are likely not done cooking. If babies emerge from the oven after 37 weeks, but before 39 weeks, they're considered early term, which means they might not be perfectly crispy on the outside or well-done in the very center but are probably still okay. So it's not a case of increased heat causing babies to be jettisoned from the womb before they're able to survive, it's just that they're popping out before they've had the benefit of a full, 40-week-long cook time.
Still, the data is concerning. Researchers estimate that early births prompted by high temperatures cost babies, on average, 6.1 days of gestation, time that would ordinarily be spent in utero forming neural pathways, and fine-tuning the development of organs like the lungs and liver. And if climate change continues to cause record high temperatures, the number of preterm or early term births, and associated complications, could continue to increase as well.
The Ocean Has Become So Acidic That Aquatic Animals' Shells Dissolving
For the same reason that Denali is raining poop, the oceans are slowly becoming more acidic. The culprit, once again, is carbon emissions, about 25% of which dissolve into the ocean any time we burn stuff like gas, coal, or oil. According to the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program, the average ocean pH has already dropped from 8.2 to 8.1, which seems like a small difference till you remember that freshwater and battery acid are separated by a mere 7 pH units. The long-term outlook is actually pretty grim, and scientists expect levels to drop another .3 to .4 units by the end of the century.
While we non-ocean dwellers might not notice much of a difference, anything that lives in the ocean and has a shell is already feeling the burn. The changing chemistry is a double whammy for mollusks like clams and oysters since acidification erodes their shells and makes carbonate ions -- the stuff they need to rebuild them -- less abundant. The increased acidity is also harmful to plankton, which sucks because plankton is food for almost anything that swims from whales to Aquaman. The Pacific Northwest has already seen massive oyster die-offs, and unless we begin to reverse the damage, scientists estimate that by the year 2080, even hardier creatures like corals will start to erode faster than they can rebuild.
Meanwhile, the most recent victim of this increased acidification is dungeness crab. A 2020 study found that lowered pH is dissolving their shells and damaging their sensory organs. The affected crabs -- mostly those in the larval stage -- were smaller than other crabs, indicating developmental delays affecting their maturation rate. Dungeness crab is one of the most valuable species for commercial fishing, and a population decline could devastate coastal communities whose economy is based on people catching crabs. (No, not like that.)
Scores of Indigenous People Have Been Injured Falling Through Melting Permafrost
Thanks to climate change, the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and Alaska face a dangerous new threat to their way of life: illiteracy. And probably not the kind you're thinking of. For traditional hunters and fishermen, "reading" snow and ice is an invaluable and necessary skill. Training begins in childhood, and centuries of vital knowledge and experience are bestowed on younger generations like a priceless heirloom that also keeps you from dying. Now, climate change is altering ice in ways that have never before been seen, negating Indigenous Peoples' knowledge and training, and making their subsistence lifestyle more dangerous with every rising degree of temperature.
Turns out, when you live so far north that you're neighbors with Santa Claus, the fact that it's cold as balls is actually a good thing. That's because when you spend a lot of your time atop many feet of frozen water, it helps to be super clear about where the ice ends and the frigid water begins. It's also beneficial if the parts of ice you walk on, drive on, or hunt on stay frozen reliably and don't break up unexpectedly because of global warming. Unfortunately, that's exactly what's happening. Alaska is the fastest-warming state in America, and that's causing an increase in ice-related accidents, many of which are fatal.
Simon Nattaq, a traditional Inuit hunter, living in a remote part of northern Quebec, lost both legs after falling through a patch of thin ice. Once almost unheard of, such events are becoming increasingly commonplace for those living in the circumpolar north. For Indigenous Peoples, hunting isn't something you do for funsies and an Instagram picture, but for food to put on the table and feed your family. That's tough to do when thin ice makes hunting areas inaccessible, or when coastal ice is so thin, you risk life and limb bringing your catch ashore. Bottom line, when entire villages are dependent on traditional hunting, fishing, and trapping, changes to the environment aren't just an inconvenience -- they're a genuine threat to survival.
Related: Weird Ways Science Is Screwed
Scientists Found 28 Previously Unknown Virus Groups in a Melting Tibetan Glacier
2020 has given us an object lesson in all the ways a virus can be terrible, and why they're absolutely not to be taken lightly. But then there are the quiet, sciency, curious-type of people. The sort who drill massive ice cores out of ancient glaciers just to see what humanity-destroying microbes and future pandemic-causing pathogens might be lurking beneath the surface. What they found ... isn't good.
In 1992 and 2015 - long before COVID-19 began wiping its butt with the world - scientists traveled to Tibet and extracted core samples from a 15,000-year-old glacier. On both occasions, teams drilled down 50 meters (164 feet) and removed massive ice samples, which, if Denali and Everest have taught us anything, probably contained some poop. Anyway, the team studied the ice cores and ultimately released their findings in January 2020, which was either excellent or awful timing, we're honestly not sure. What did they find, exactly?
The cores contained 33 virus groups, 28 of which were ancient viruses that were completely unknown to the modern world.
Now, there's no telling - at least not yet - how dangerous the viruses are, how they work, or if one goes by the nickname COVID-21. And while 28 new viruses in a lab might be scary, the bigger picture here is that those virus-containing glaciers are melting. Quickly. What happens if continued global warming melts them enough to reintroduce ancient viruses to modern humans? We've already told you that melting ice releases whatever diseases were frozen in it -- like anthrax and flu -- and that frozen pathogens can and do emerge from their frozen state very much alive. But those are the disease-causing organisms we can identify, Cthulhu only knows what sort of pandemics a bunch of old-school viruses might cause today.
Better go buy more toilet paper.
Top image: Unsplash, Unsplash